The objective of the meeting was to get NGOs and the Government on the same track in order for them to understand each other’s role; to share concerns and to discuss the way forward. The meeting was attended by Tsunami victims, NGOs and senior government officials. Prominent participants included Dr. Mohini Giri, former Chairperson, National Commission for Women; Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, State Commissioner for Women; Shri Babu Mathew, Country Director, Action Aid, Shri R. Santhanam, Special Commissioner & Commissioner of Revenue Administration and Shri C.V. Shankar, Special Officer on Duty – Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project, Chennai. Rama Chari, Senior Programme Officer, NCPEDP and Shri Rajiv Rajan, Coordinator (Disability Law Unit – South Zone) attended it in order to ensure the disability perspective was taken into account in the relief and rehabilitation initiatives.
One of the main concerns was people participation, which is being compromised in the rehabilitation initiatives being coordinated by the Government. The Government Orders (GO 25 & 26), which have been issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu, entrusts all the powers of decision-making to the Collectors. The GO states that NGOs/corporates, which can invest a minimum of Rupees 75 lakh (the amount needed to rehabilitate 50 households, including construction of houses, roads, water supply and livelihood rehabilitation) should submit their plan to the Collector, who will examine all the proposals and decide which to accept or reject. The concern of the participants, who were mainly grassroots community organisations and human rights activists was that the transaction seems to be only between the big organisations and the Collectors. People from the community, including the Panchayat, seem to be nowhere in the picture.
Some of the suggestions that came up at the meeting were: greater involvement of Panchayat, especially in the decision making; to use the Panchayat offices as one-stop information dissemination centres for any information regarding the rehabilitation work, which will also ensure transparency and accountability; to reactivate disaster management committees in villages; formation of district/village-level committees to monitor the rehabilitation work; a long term policy for rehabilitation and reconstruction work should be formulated at the earliest, as the present efforts are piecemeal (with the Government issuing various GOs from time to time).
The fact that disabled people formed a large section of the Tsunami victims was eye-opening for many in the audience. A request was made to include disability at every step of the rehabilitation work.